You would think a place known as the "House of Drift" would have the sideways motorsport on tap at any point during the year, but until relatively recently that was hardly the case. Irwindale Speedway—today technically the "Irwindale Event Center"—used to have just the Formula DRIFT Pro Championship's season finale each October as its only sliding attraction; then a few years back, FD expanded its presence to include Thursday Night Drift, its once-a-month test-and-tune session for all levels of driver at the short oval. Now, you can add The Drift League's (TDL) four-round pro-am championship among the events legitimizing the venue's unique nickname.
TDL kicked off its inaugural season on June 1st with a couple dozen local drivers vying for top prizes as well as max points toward one of the handful of Formula D Pro 2 licenses being distributed at the end of the year. And with The Drift League being the region's second FD-sanctioned pro-am, we saw a fair amount of familiar emerging talent on the driver roster, hot shoes like Rome Charpentier and Daryl Priyono in their Imagine Garage BMW E36s, Daniel Kuo and his Garage Life Mazda FD3S RX-7, Meliton Villamor and his 2JZ-motivated Nissan S14, Don Boline and his Concept Builders 350Z, Josh Mason and his LS V8-swapped Ford Mustang, and others. The sibling duo of Branden and Amanda Sorensen out of Las Vegas were also competing in their matchy-matchy Sorensen Motorsports E46s. Branden is already Pro 2 licensed, at 14 years of age (!) being the youngest ever with that distinction, and his sister Amanda—at 15—is also on the hunt.
The course that was set up was nothing like the layout FD typically runs—which makes sense, considering this is pro-am. Cars entered along the bank on the east end of the oval, but instead of initiating at the turn entrance in order to fill a long first outer zone, drivers were instructed to get to angle just past the turn's midpoint to fill a far more abbreviated zone. Cars then came off the bank into the infield for inner clip 1, then transitioned for inner clip 2 before setting up for a final rear zone and the finish line.
Early in the afternoon, Charpentier was your number-one qualifier, followed by Tony Cisneros in his S14, Daniel Stucke in the MSPEK S13, and the rest:
1. Rome Charpentier
2. Tony Cisneros
3. Daniel Stucke
4. Josh Mason
5. Amanda Sorensen
6. George Kilada
7. Daryl Priyono
8. Alfa Ramirez
9. Don Boline
10. Micah Diaz
11. Carlos Cano Estrella
12. Branden Sorensen
13. Chris Jones
14. Mac Cruz
15. Daniel Kuo
16. Jerald Hernandez
The event's Super G Challenge gymkhana filled the space in between qualifying and Top 16, and as day turned to night eliminations got underway, with Charpentier taking out Jerald Hernandez in his E46. Stucke eliminated Mac Cruz in his 2JZ FC RX-7, and then brother and sister Sorensens were up next in an unlikely pairing that was pushed to a One More Time (OMT). After their bonus laps, judges dubbed Amanda the victor, which must make for an uncomfortable dynamic at home.
Another BMW battle ensued when Priyono and Micah Diaz in his E46 went next, with Diaz emerging triumphant, followed by Cisneros and Kuo, a bout that went to the S14 driver. Mason knocked off Chris Jones and his S13, Carlos Cano Estrella in his V8 AE86 dispatched George Kilada and his 240SX, and the final match of the opener saw Alfa Ramirez in an S12 200SX take down Boline.
The Great 8 started with a clash between Charpentier and Stucke that went to a OMT, and in the extra laps Stucke pulled off the W. The E46s of Sorensen and Diaz were next, another decision that went to the 15 year old (Diaz marked the loss with one of the longest, gnarliest burnouts we've ever seen at Irwindale). Mason ended Cisneros' evening, while Ramirez earned the victory over Cano Estrella.
Under Irwindale's lights, the Final 4 took to the track, with Stucke knocking off Sorensen and Mason doing the same to Ramirez. Sorensen and Ramirez ended up tandeming for third place, a decision that went in Alfa's favor, which left just Stucke and Mason as the last two standing. They battled hard, but the final—and first place—was awarded to Josh Mason.
More drifting at the House of Drift is never a bad thing, and The Drift League looks to help make that a reality this year, in addition to providing a path for hungry up and comers to make a run at a Formula D Pro 2 license. TDL returns to action on July 20th for Round 2 at the Irwindale Event Center.